Friday, August 2, 2019

Histories of ordinary pain

Lilith and I turn right at Kahekili Highway, start up the asphalt path toward the cemetery (where a billboard advertises 20% off burial plots). Yesterday evening four boys stood by the road holding state flags upside down and a sovereignty flag right side up, serenaded by honks from traffic. This morning I turn at Ahuimanu Park to look at the Ko`olau when I see a woman beneath a tree. Her hair a bright dyed red, she sits cross-legged on the grass, holding a pillow and a blanket. She looks away from me. I approach the chain link fence, ask her if she's ok. She nods. I ask if she's sure.

On our way back, the woman is gone. She's not under the tree or at the restroom building or behind the baseball back stop; she's not anywhere I can see.

The tree trimmers are back with their cherry picker and their shredder. The man with bad knees hobbles beneath a younger man in the basket, who uses a machete on a pole to cut smaller branches off the monkey pod, standing back to measure the tree's shape. The older man picks up branches and sets them in the street behind orange cones.

A history of ordinary pain. When, from the bus, we saw old women sweep the streets in Moscow, bent over because their brooms were too short, my father cried.

Trump revels in the burglary at Rep. Cummings's house before his first racist tweet. She says she performs "mom" in the classroom, pulling off her glasses, telling students their work was shitty, but she loves them. Says her young daughter turned away from her at the restaurant and talked to the people in the booth behind them. That's one performative family, I say. She moves her body from one side of the hallway to another, speaks in joyful bursts. Trump's is a terrible, a mutant joy. His crowd laughs. Outside the building, a young Trump supporter punches an older protester in the mouth; he crumples to the ground. At least they're both white, eh?

Protesters bring a cloth mock-up of a cage; they carry it, chant something about immigrants making America. Noise cascades around them. A hand appears before the camera, its third finger stuck in the air. Something for your poetry?

I am worrying these moments as if they were beads, or threads from an old sweater. I worry them until they resemble the boy's blue bike abandoned by the road, next to a can of pumpkin and a can of cranberry sauce; its back tire is black and firm, but the front is white, shredded, soft to the touch. To worry is to lose value, wear away the word until it feathers. See the mountains behind the red-haired woman, the white chapel behind the billboard advertising a less expensive death. Watch for the curl of the dead palm frond as it bows to the palm's trunk.

That's the lyric conclusion. Trying to find that space above the hurtful detail, trying to hover like the yellow helicopter over our house, trying to save someone on the mountain and sometimes succeeding. The documentary conclusion is to set them up like a row of green plastic soldiers and see them as many, one. It's not the unity we dream of it, but the sameness of it offers some consolation.

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